Outdoor Research to Conduct When Planning a Backpacking Trip

By Lora Keleher , last updated December 22, 2011

By knowing what kind of outdoor research to conduct when planning a backpacking trip, you can avoid certain hazards and get the most out of your outdoor excursion. It’s important for the safety of yourself and your companions to plan ahead, and be aware of possible complications, such as inclement weather, trail obstructions, or large animal sightings before embarking on your next adventure. Proper preparation can minimize your risks and help ensure that you’ll have an enjoyable trip.

Weather Conditions

One of the most essential pieces of research to conduct when planning a backpacking trip is to check the local weather report. Find out about impending inclement weather conditions, such as snow, sleet, rain or hail, and consider scheduling around these occurrences. You should also look up the expected temperatures throughout the duration of your hike, and dress accordingly. If you’re planning an all-day hike and temperatures are predicted to vary throughout the day, dress in layers to keep you warm during the early morning and evening, and cool during the middle of the day. Even if the predicted weather is sunny and temperate, you should still be prepared for sudden changes, such as rain, high winds, or storms by packing appropriate gear and supplies, and bringing a signaling device, flashlight and first aid kit. You can learn about pending weather conditions by watching a weather report, contacting the park at which you plan to hike, or checking online weather sites.

Trail Data

Especially if you haven’t hiked in a particular area, or if you haven’t visited a particular spot recently, it’s important to research the difficulty of a particular hike to ensure that everyone in your group is physically up to the challenge. If you hike frequently, you may have forgotten abut the difficulties a particular trail posed in the past, and if it’s a new hike, you won’t know how tough the trail is to navigate unless you research it. Some trails may take you into high elevations, which can cause symptoms such as dehydration and light-headedness, while other trails may require that you can climb rocks or navigate steep, narrow terrain. Additionally, if it’s recently rained, the trail could be flooded in certain areas, or a storm could have caused debris and trim limbs to obstruct a trail. Many popular hiking spots provide maps and trail data online. Alternatively, you can call ahead, or visit the site ahead of time to learn about particular trail conditions.

Animals & Insects

It’s important to learn about animal-related risks that may be present on a particular trail. Parks may issue warnings about staying away from certain trails, because of recent sightings of large, potentially aggressive wild animals, such as bears, mountain lions, or wolves. Additionally, some areas are home to poisonous snakes, spiders, scorpions, or lizards. You should learn about the possibility of encountering these creatures, and, if they’re present, create a plan to prepare for the rare the event that a member of your party is injured or bitten. You should also wear insect repellant to ward off ticks, mosquitos, and other biting insects that may carry diseases. You can learn about animal-related dangers by contacting the park, or performing online research regarding a particular habitat.

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